Thursday, February 26, 2015

My basketball projects Part one

Looking at a 5'7" overweight, middle aged Canadian guy you might not guess I have had a fifty year love affair with basketball.  Even if you are not concerned about basketball, you might enjoy some of the adventures it led me on.  Some people think I am just a contrarian and that I rebelled against hockey and looked for something different.  Hockey was a big part of my youth and still retains some interest for me.

School sports were an outlet for me as I had little involvement with organized sports.  A Sunday school teacher, John Moffatt gave me  my first taste of basketball.  Years later his brother Peter was the presiding minister for my mother's funeral in another city.  A lot of friends played basketball through the schools so it was a natural activity.

Sports can build self-confidence, keep you physically fit, develop some social skills and keep you out of mischief  All those factors benefited me to some extent.  Over time you learn about yourself.  Being only 5'7"" there was an obvious limit.  However I was faster and quicker handed than most of my peers and developed timing so that my biggest thrills were blocking shots from many taller players and even more often stealing rebounds where positioning and timing were important.  My quick hands could take the ball from many a cocky ball handler.  My shortness probably contributed to a strong sense of balance that sometimes gave me an edge.  I could generally get down the floor faster than most.  My son was similar in playing soccer--he loved to score goals, but he also loved stopping other people from scoring so he was constantly running both ends of the field which eventually resulted being placed at mid fielder.

As people are not conscious of being colour blind it was quite awhile before I recognized my own visual limitation.  I was born cross eyed, but it didn't seem to affect my reading skills and felt pretty normal visually.  After an operation at about age 7 other people commented that I looked better, but to be honest I don't remember much difference.  In high school basketball practice it finally hit me I wasn't able to see a ball coming at me from the left side.  A more basic problem was that one eye had become very dominant.  Judging distance is normally handled by binocular vision, but I had relied reasonably well on size (smaller meant further away) and memory.  When it comes to shooting a basketball, or hitting a baseball  binocular vision is critical.

Another minor problem is that even for my height I had small hands which was first pointed out to me in music class.  Hands allow control over basketballs.

Ok, these are all just excuses.  I had enough success at lower levels that I enjoyed playing basketball mindless hours every week and always thought I would become good enough to be noticed.  Simcoe Hall was the scene of most of my sweating.   In reality I was a small part of the grass roots that every sport requires to develop elite athletes.

In high school I wasn't good enough for the teams at Oshawa Central, but became a very big fan--they won most of their games so there was a lot of cheering.  My last two years of high school at Haliburton Highlands Secondary School were better as far as actually playing.  At the University of Guelph I had to content myself with intramural basketball, but closely followed their varsity team coached by all star football player, Garney Henley.  They didn't really win big until after my graduation and I watched it on tv as they won the national inter collegiate championship with a buzzer beater.  I did play a little recreational basketball, but I gave it up as my work cut off evening recreation and then I became involved with my children's athletics.  You can read about my volunteer activities at  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2013/06/my-career-as-sports-volunteer.html

One of my jobs took me to Fort Erie and on impulse I decided to cross the bridge to watch a Buffalo Braves game just after a heavy snow storm.  My first taste of the NBA live got me hooked.   At first like a lot of people I was drawn by the opposition teams such as the Boston Celtics and Pistrol Pete Maravich.  I started listening to the local Buffalo radio station to games and commentary.  Stan Baron was very entertaining and I became interested in the Buffalo players.  I watched a few games there, even dragging a few others to watch.  Once went on a double date with my wife and another couple from work.

I actually phoned up radio stations to push basketball coverage.  I was told that really they just responded to what their listeners and readers wanted.  I am sure many found me annoying pointing out that a least a few of their listeners did care.

I was pretty self-righteous and naive, and finally spotted an opportunity when Harold Ballard went to jail allowing his son Bill to take over Maple Leaf Gardens.  I wrote letters justifying the pursuit of an NBA team.  There were a lot of other factors involved in the decision to bring the Buffalo Braves to play a few regular season games.  I am sure there were some cash flow concerns at both ends of the decision.  Bill Ballard had no hangups about basketball being a sissy game, just an opportunity.  Ken Twigg called and offered me a chance to sell tickets.  I  included a newspaper carrier contest where I worked at the Oakville Journal Record and also hit upon a few acquaintances, both fans and non fans.  I also paid for an ad (getting an employee discount) which was soon adopted by Maple Leaf Gardens.  I had stolen the idea of a 24 second shoot em up.

Canadians were so locked into hockey that they couldn't appreciate the athleticism and drama in basketball. The Toronto Maple Leafs had their moments, but I think their glory days were diminishing and I was struck by how upset some fans were.  I don't think they understood that their intense love for the game and the team was why the management felt they didn't have to spend the money to procure a winning team.

Hockey got overwhelming support (free advertising) from newspapers and other Canadian media Basketball needed some support to have a chance.  I was especially struck with how ignorant Canadians were, but the biggest indignity was that most saw it as an "American" game.  Most of the people I sold tickets to were NBA fans and chose games by their interest in the opponent.  It took quite awhile before the Toronto fans developed loyalty to the Buffalo team after they recognized that the Braves included all stars like Bob McAdoo, Jim McMillian and Ernie Di Gregorio.  My favourite was Randy Smith.

A book seemed like a good idea.  Nobody else seemed to be concerned about the basic problem of ignorance.  This led to quite an education.

The biggest part of my adventures with basketball lies ahead, but hopefully this has set the stage.  I learned a lot from research, not sure much was accomplished, but as it was such a big part of my life it is one of those things I don't want to forget.

You can read Part two at:  http://bit.ly/1NrivpC

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